With last Thursday’s elite specialization reveal being the guardian, it’s somewhat fitting that the final New Player Experience profession in our study be the guardian as well. At first glance this profession feels like a smiting monk from Guild Wars 1 with a need for heavy armor. Both San and Star were pretty familiar with this profession before the NPE became part of the game last September since Star regularly rolled a guardian for her key farming and also had an under-40 guardian-in-progress, while San had finished max leveling her second guardian just weeks before the September Feature Pack landed.
Before NPE, guardian was a class whose strengths shone quite early on, allowing them to solo level 10 Personal Story steps with care as early as level 5 (possibly earlier if you were quite skilled), making them a popular choice for Black Lion Chest key farming. Post-NPE, however, guardians are just as susceptible to the infamous stat slump giving players creative space for leveling strategies during those periods.
As with other rarely or never played professions, the NPE does provide a slow pace and gently sloping learning curve. Veterans who do not know much about a specific class may find it helpful as we have in the past, to take advantage of NPE in order to learn a new profession. Guardians still start with a mace but now have Shelter as the initial heal skill instead of Healing Breeze. This is an interesting switch considering that Shelter is currently the meta heal skill for dungeons, PvP and WvW. As with other classes, the first profession skill, Virtue of Justice, unlocks at level 5. Given the faster xp gain in the starter maps now, reaching level 5 is fairly painless and goes quickly. After the first handful of levels, Star felt familiar enough with the class that she wanted to break away from the slow digestion of skills and abilities, and jump into playing with every aspect of the profession. Feeling stuck and desiring to unlock every aspect of the character as quickly as possible, she turned to mapping cities and starter zones in order to boost her levels, running further afield as her levels allowed.
San similarly leveled quickly, getting to level 9 after clearing the bottom of Caledon Forest, unfortunately just as her guardian needed to be wise and selective in the middle of the map thanks to the stat slump that began kicking in at level 8. At this point, San’s guardian went up against level 7 enemies and saw her health going down to less than a quarter after one or two hits despite swapping out Shelter for Signet of Resolve for the better initial heal amount a couple levels prior. Once again, situational awareness and prior knowledge of the class and game came in handy. San chose to play ranged with a staff at this point, stacking might from the number 4 staff skill, Empower, which unlocked at level 7, in order to aid damage output and survivability. Instead of mapping cities, though, San chose to remain in combat, switching to other starter maps if need be for a time, in order to gain xp more quickly through combat.
As each stat slump occurred, the guardian, who is normally a powerhouse, became glassy. Because of this, Star held off starting new story steps or changing map areas until her stats had caught up to her corresponding level. Although neither of us crafted gear, strategic crafting could alleviate the inconvenience of the stat slump, as we’ve noted before, allowing players to balance out their stats to suit their play style better since most dropped gear this early tends to be power rich with occasional drops to boost vitality, condition damage, toughness, or precision.
Certain story steps can also provide an interesting opportunity to expand beyond the NPE’s imposed boundaries. In the level 10 charr story Operation: Bulwark, for example, the utility slots are replaced for the duration of the mission. By switching out these skills before leaving the instance, Star was able to retain use of the third utility slot, which usually unlocks at level 19, for the remainder of the study, even when changing maps, logging out and logging back in, and changing slotted utility skills.
Given the guardian’s heavy armor and protective abilities, as mentioned earlier, prior to NPE it was easy enough to power through story steps several levels higher than the guardian. Playing with fellow guild members, Star’s pre-NPE guardian had reached the third story arc before attaining level 20. When NPE instituted its locked story steps she was forced to grind levels to catch up to where she had unlocked. The gated story steps felt painfully unnecessary even with the test character.
As Star often played solo, the opening heal skill, Shelter, worked well. If levelling in a group, Healing Breeze may provide early support and can be opened with a skill point (provided you are able to collect them.) Condition removal at these early levels might also be unnecessary for guardians and players should consider swapping out the first open skill slot for a different utility skill if possible.
We both felt that the guardian did not suffer unduly from the lack of profession skills – Virtues in this case – and had learned from previous tests to swap weapons between combat by running with our inventory windows open or by placing alternate weapons at the top of the inventory for quick opening and swapping as the situation called for. The NPE guardian was just as fun to play as the pre-NPE guardian, coming progressively into its own as utility slots and the professions skills unlocked. As in previous tests, only the locked progression detracted from our experience.
Overall, Star enjoyed the guardian enough while in combat that leveling this profession felt less grindy than some other professions have felt. For her, the opening of Virtues felt as if she had gained an auxiliary bonus skill upon achieving a specific level. This contrasted sharply with the feeling of a burden being lifted once other professions – ranger or mesmer, for example – gained profession skills through level progression.
The last several months have provided an interesting experience for Star, allowing her to play every character profession and explore a variety of the personal stories. As an altholic, she has collected several new characters in the process as various versions of her key farmer, Peat Repeat, proved too interesting to delete. Initially, Star felt that this study would convince her to never level a character without boosters, tomes, and scrolls, but to the contrary, it has provided her with a number of strategies for negotiating the NPE as a veteran player and allowed her to enjoy aspects of the game that she previously paid little attention to.
For San, the guardian test reminded her, again, why this class has always been one of her favorites. Yet, as with the other tests, she felt the hand-holding the NPE provides is excessive and something that should unlock on an account once at least one max level character is on it, similar to how skill points are unlocked. Given that the change to stat gains lasts throughout the entire leveling experience, she recognizes that such a modification would be difficult; the forthcoming changes to traits and stats in specializations, however, should make the NPE and leveling experience interesting. San still finds leveling characters fun, but the experience has definitely changed, requiring some finesse at times. This has actually helped her learn more of the subtleties of some classes and of the game itself which she’s then been able to take to some of her max level characters.
As we look forward to our final thoughts on this study, we will be thinking about the impact of this system overall, how it may be changing with the introduction of specializations, and how players planning on leveling more characters – especially revenants in Heart of Thorns – might prepare for and plan their experience. You can look for this upcoming contribution over at GuildMag.